State of the Union

The Prejudicial Cynicism of Trump's SOTU Talk About MS-13

Conflating illegal immigration in general with criminal gangs is wrong, and will lead to bad, wasteful, damaging immigration policy.


President Trump's use of the parents of children murdered in Long Island by members of the El Salvador-based criminal gang MS-13 as a classic SOTU audience prop got him a long standing ovation tonight. To show sympathy and solidarity with grieving parents, that's fine.

MS-13 wiki

But Trump did not do this in order to show sympathy for specific grieving parents. As his comments made clear, he did it in order to conflate the millions of people who come to America, many without jumping through nearly impossible legal hoops and mostly to work, with murderers.

As Trump said tonight, after inviting the grieving parents to stand up:

Six members of the savage MS-13 gang have been charged with [their children's] murders. Many of these gang members took advantage of glaring loopholes in our laws to enter the country as illegal, unaccompanied, alien minors….I want you to know that 320 million hearts are right now breaking for you. We love you. Thank you…..While we cannot imagine the depths of that kind of sorrow, we can make sure that other families never have to endure this kind of pain.

Tonight I am calling on Congress to finally close the deadly loopholes that have allowed MS-13 and other criminal gangs to break into our country. We have proposed new legislation that will fix our immigration laws and support our ICE and border patrol agents. These are great people, these are great, great people that work so hard in the midst of such danger, so that this can never happen again.

This description of any perceived looseness in American law enforcement regarding immigration as about allowing murderers to "break into our country" is not an accurate reflection of the realities of immigration. Trump's only purpose in this rhetorical move was to use sympathy for grieving parents to politically energize an expensive, tyrannical attempt to disrupt millions of innocent (of anything but violating immigration paperwork laws) lives by illegitimately conflating their "crimes" with murderers.

While MS-13 members certainly have committed murders in the U.S., it's not generally considered intelligent and measured to shape national policy affecting millions of immigrants (as well as the many millions of non-immigrant Americans who buy from, hire, sell to, or rent to them) by thinking only of the handfuls of violent criminals who share nothing but being illegal immigrants with those millions. The Trump administration loves using MS-13 as sinister poster boys for his restrictionist immigration policy, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions mistakenly attempted last year to finger them as major players in illegal drug smuggling.

But in fact, as The Atlantic explained last year:

like other gangs in the U.S., at the end of the last decade its reach and violence waned. In fact, the same day Trump tweeted about MS-13, the U.S. Justice Department released a fact sheet that said state and federal authorities had "severely disrupted the gang within certain targeted areas of the U.S. by 2009 and 2010."….anthropologist Jorja Leap says the gang's power has declined….[she] who spent 10 years studying MS-13 and wrote a book on the gang. She told me that outside of a few high-profile murders, the gang's recent return to the national psyche is political opportunism. …But statistically, Trump's fixation is hard to justify. If you measure the gang's threat by recruitment, more recent Department of Justice figures say it has about 6,000 members nationwide….It also seems to make up only a fraction of deported criminals. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's division that focuses on gangs, Homeland Security Investigations, deported 114,434 individuals last year, according to data given to CNN. MS-13 made up only 429 of those….

….Sessions, speaking to a Justice Department crime task force in April, said MS-13 in El Salvador "has been sending both recruiters and members to regenerate gangs that previously had been decimated, and smuggling members across the border as unaccompanied minors."

Except, there's no data to support such claims. Insight Crime, an organized-crime investigative nonprofit, explained "there is no evidence that the migratory patterns of gang members are different than those of any other group of migrants, or that they are moving in accordance with a grand plan forged by the MS13's Salvadoran leadership to revitalize the organization." Quite simply, Insight wrote, "there is no study by federal agencies or academic institutions that proves that there is a significant number of gang members among these minors." This is backed up by the recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, where Customs and Border Protection Acting Chief Carla Provost said that of the 250,000 unaccompanied minors apprehended since 2011, only 56 were suspected or confirmed of being affiliated with MS-13.

As Virginia-based political scientist Michael Paarlberg pointed out regarding MS-13 last year for intelligent comparison in The Washington Post:

As the head of the Northern Virginia Gang Task Force has stated, "the vast majority of their crimes are gang-on-gang," echoing Senate testimonyby Montgomery County, Md.'s police chief that most of their violence is motivated by "perceived or actual rival gang affiliations," as well as members turning informant, or potential members resisting recruitment efforts.

For all the hype in the governor's race, MS-13 has been associated with three murders in Virginia this year, and two of the victims were MS-13 members themselves. To put that into perspective, there were 480 homicides in Virginia in 2016, and nine Virginians died in traffic accidents over Fourth of July weekend alone.

Immigrants to America, legal or illegal, writ large do not represent a disproportionate and dangerous criminal threat in general, and only the tiniest fraction are associated with specific colorful murderous criminal gangs. Trump's references to MS-13 tonight were a cynical and prejudicial attempt to make Americans think otherwise and support his obsession with wasting American treasure on a futile and pointless attempt to stop people from coming here to work and be part of the overall economic fabric of the United States as workers, consumers, and taxpayers. Parents of murdered children deserve standing ovations, but Trump's immigration madness does not.

NEXT: Trump Promotes 'Right to Try' Experimental Treatments for Terminally Ill Patients in SOTU Address

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    1. It’s a lot more obnoxious than just lowering the penalty for street-shitters–low-level assaults were also downgraded so Mayor Hancock’s pets wouldn’t be deported for beating their wives.

    2. I saw that the other day. Such fucking bullshit. IMO ALL illegal immigrants should be deported, criminal record or not. But anybody who is a homeless bum, who shits on the street in public, definitely doesn’t need to be allowed to stay. They’re obviously not a useful or productive member of society like a lot of the hard working illegals are, so minor stuff like that is in fact a small, but not entirely useless, indicator that they’re definitely NOT the kind of immigrants we need in 21st century America.

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  1. If you believe in ‘addiction’ or that NK is a safe space, please don’t have more kids. It will not end well.

  2. Do you get the feeling we are all being played by both sides?
    But for what ends?

    1. Power and prestige. You heard it here first.

    1. Some things never change.

    2. Not the greatest example, since federal power and spending grew massively after they poured in.

      Reminds me of open borders aficionados telling us to welcome immigrants like the Indians welcomed the Pilgrims. Yeah, great idea.

    3. And the truth is that a lot of those complaints were real at the time! The flood of Italians, Irish, Germans etc DID suppress wages, cause crime, change voting demographics etc. The Italian mafia ring any bells? There was no English organized crime syndicate to speak of. How about immigrant laborers being called in to bust unions? I’m no union fan, but if I was a worker being undercut like that at the time I’d probably have been pretty pissed. Ditto for immigrants disproportionally voting for FDR. If we’d had fewer immigrants perhaps America might have never started down the road to socialism. Interesting question to ponder given the obvious voting patterns of recent immigrants…

      That stuff only became un-true after generations of them were here, intermarried with older established native born folks, and completely integrated. Then we had a magical “golden age” where everybody was pretty happy, getting along, more or less believed in all the same major ideals, and things were generally peachy keen. It’s not a coincidence. A constant influx means constant tenuousness and fighting. Hence slow and steady wins the race, big floods of people cause problems between groups as evidenced by the entirety of human history.

    4. Yes, Progressives have a history of bigoted immigration policies. Teddy Roosevelt preserved federal lands instead of letting immigrants settle on them. Then Wilson had soldiers take culturally biased tests to determine their military ranks in World War I. Those test results were the data used to drum up support for restrictions on immigration in the 1920’s. Franklin Roosevelt chose to keep immigration restrictions in place during Holocaust.

  3. Undocumented Immigrants, U.S. Citizens, and Convicted Criminals in Arizona

    Using newly released detailed data on all prisoners who entered the Arizona state prison from January 1985 through June 2017, we are able to separate non-U.S. citizens by whether they are illegal or legal residents. These data do not rely on self-reporting by criminals. Undocumented immigrants are at least 142% more likely to be convicted of a crime than other Arizonans. They also tend to commit more serious crimes and serve 10.5% longer sentences, more likely to be classified as dangerous, and 45% more likely to be gang members than U.S. citizens.

    Young convicts are especially likely to be undocumented immigrants. While undocumented immigrants from 15 to 35 years of age make up slightly over two percent of the Arizona population, they make up about eight percent of the prison population. Even after adjusting for the fact that young people commit crime at higher rates, young undocumented immigrants commit crime at twice the rate of young U.S. citizens. These undocumented immigrants also tend to commit more serious crimes.

    If undocumented immigrants committed crime nationally as they do in Arizona, in 2016 they would have been responsible for over 1,000 more murders, 5,200 rapes, 8,900 robberies, 25,300 aggravated assaults, and 26,900 burglaries.

    1. Yup. Everybody who trots out the “immigrants commit less crime!” trope is not separating LEGAL from ILLEGAL immigrants.

      They’re a demographic that is basically destined to go into crime at higher rates than the average American, because they have all the conditions that make natives turn to crime, as well as reasons on top of.

      They’re mostly poor. Mostly uneducated. They don’t speak the native language, AKA harder to get a job. They come from countries with lower standards for social norms, and far less crime enforcement. On and on.

      All of the above generally lead to higher crime rates. Native born blacks are the only ones who can give illegal immigrants a run for the money in crime stats. If you compare the illegal immigrant crime stats to white crime stats they’re VASTLY higher, just like stats for native born Hispanics and blacks.

      1. Poverty and education are actually more weakly correlated with criminality than race but we’re supposed to ignore that because it’s inconvenient to the narrative. At the same time as we blame poverty and education for crime so that we can excuse blacks of any accountability for their problems we are supposed to pretend that pig ignorant migrant farm workers illiterate in both Spanish and English are unaffected by poverty or education.

        1. Truth. But there are still strong correlations. Poor black folks commit crimes at higher rates than middle class black folks. Poor white folks commit crime at higher rates than middle class white folks. And so on. But why poor white folks or Hispanics commit less crime than wealthier/more educated black folks… Well that’s the subject that can’t be discussed. There are logical explanations if one googles the subject…

      2. AND, their very presence here demonstrates a proclivity to break our laws. Don’t leave that out.

      3. Yup. Everybody who trots out the “immigrants commit less crime!” trope is not separating LEGAL from ILLEGAL immigrants.

        What’s worse is that they don’t account for the legal children of these immigrants, who commit crime at 12 times the rate of the general populace…

        Legal immigrants watch what they do carefully because they can be sent home. Their children have no fear of this, and so they behave just like the savages in their homelands do.

        1. Yes, it’s scarcely surprising legal immigrants have a good record of being law abiding, since they were selected for that very trait in the immigration vetting process, and as you say, are subject to deportation if they’re not law abiding before naturalization.

          And it’s not surprising that illegal immigrants have a bad record, since their defining characteristic is a crime.

          What I want to know, even if you’re going to distinguish M-13 from illegal immigrants in general, is how you stop them from entering while not securing the border to the “innocent’ illegals can get in. You can’t! Open borders means no control over who enters on ANY basis.

          1. It’s true that by nature legal ones are selected for law-abidingness. However, that doesn’t explain the explosion of violent criminality in their children…

            I’m with you on securing the border. I’m not sure a wall is the right way, but whatever. At this point, it’s a trifle in expense. We could just cut foreign aid for a year and build 5 of them.

            1. Explosion is relative. What I’m reading is that legal immigrants, unsurprisingly given that they were vetted, have a lower crime rate than native Americans as a group. But their children have a crime rate “explodes” to the national average for natives. Not better, not worse, they’ve assimilated the native crime rate.

              Crime rises among second-generation immigrants as they assimilate

              1. It’s above the average, and it is drastically above the average if you remove them from the data. They skew the average up. This becomes a lot more obvious if you break it down by race / origin and stop trying to claim that Koreans aren’t any different than Mexicans who aren’t any different than Sub-Saharan Africans who aren’t any different than Europeans.

            2. Fact is that there are multiple reasons. For blacks and hispanics part of the reason is that their kids get ghettoized by the native born thugs. I grew up in Cali and saw this happen a thousand times with Mexican kids I went to school with.

              But other cultural issues play in, as do non politically correct facts like IQ distributions… If you specifically import uneducated people you’re sampling from the lower rungs of the IQ spectrum almost exclusively, which is the exact demographic of illegal immigrants, and IQ correlates strongly to criminal rates. That their parents might have been decent low IQ people doesn’t matter since their kids will likely deviate to statistical norms, which is to say far higher crime rates. This is why the children of legal immigrant doctors tend to go on to be successful in a single generation, but not the kids of janitors. It’s all painfully obvious and logical. But somehow progs think an 85 IQ immigrant is supposed to magically become a doctor… cuz… feels!!! Or something.

              1. I actually agree with the IQ points.

                The problem isn’t just progs who think that 85 IQ and lower immigrants will magically become doctors. One only need look at Reason to realize that this completely false idea is alive and well in the libertarian party. “Why don’t those factory workers just retrain to become IT Specialists?” The answer is obviously because most of them can’t. They just don’t have the intellect for it. It’s not a judgement of “oh these people are lazy/bad” but a realization that a lot of things are just out of the reach of a substantial number of people.

                1. Yup. I get why people don’t want to accept that there are racial differences in average IQ… It’s a BIG fat bit of the most un PC shit you can imagine… The evidence is strong that it is a thing, but there are still questions to be answered. BUT it is 100% accepted that INDIVIDUAL IQ is between 50-80% heritable from your parents. It’s varied by study, but it’s at least half. IQ correlates to financial success, crime rates, divorce rates… Basically everything most people consider good are better in people with higher IQs.

                  It is also known that people in low skill tasks, with no education, tend to have lower IQs. So why it is at all controversial to point this out when considering who is allowed to immigrate is ridiculous. We’re basically importing the equivalent of nothing but janitor class people. Most of them, and all their progeny, will literally not have the mental capacity to advance beyond menial labor or perhaps semi skilled trade jobs. It’s literally impossible.

                  But yeah, the way people talk about how factory workers should retrain to be software engineers or whatever is ridiculous. Probably 5% or less of those people have the mental capacity to do so. I don’t hate people for not being geniuses, they’re usually good people, a lot of my best friends aren’t bright, but how journalists write about this stuff is super detached from objective reality.

      4. “immigrants commit less crime!” (*)

        (*) If we ignore all the immigration-related crime (8 U.S. Code ? 1325, 8 U.S. Code ? 1324), document fraud crimes, identity-theft crimes, tax fraud, conspiracy to commit [employment, tax, minimum wage] fraud (with their employers in under-the-table cash jobs), welfare fraud…

        1. And local violations like housing code (too many unrelated residents in one unit), driving without a license, driving without insurance…

          1. Oh my goodness. I was pro immigration until I learned that they might be working for cash, not paying taxes, driving without a government issued ID, and VIOLATING BUILDING CODES! It’s enough to turn a libertarian into a radical statist like you. Thanks for the insights.

            1. Well we might rail against those things in principle… And I do… But I’ll tell you what, if I’m having to pay out the ass for this bloated government I sure and fuck want to make sure other people are not scamming the system. Make them pay until they’re pissed enough to vote it down too.

              And it’s all fun and games to think about 15 Mexicans in a 3 bedroom house… Until they move in next door, with their 7 beat up cars, half of which are parked on the lawn, chickens in the back yard, etc. This is half the reason that these upper middle class progs don’t get it. They don’t have this shit happening in THEIR neighborhood like a working class white or black guy does. They have the Indian programmer guy move in, and then can’t understand why so many people don’t appreciate the immigrants, because he’s such a nice guy with his Prius and his nice wife and single child!

              I live in a neighborhood in Seattle now where the newbs are literally Indian programmers, but when I was a kid in Cali I lived where it was the 15 Mexicans. It’s not that those things should be illegal or anything, but they’re not preferable either.

  4. Parents of murdered children deserve standing ovations

    Why? Doesn’t seem like a great accomplishment.

  5. How is this one iota different from Reason flogging the sob stories of the infinitesimally small minority of “Dreamers” who graduated high school and then faced the unspeakable brutality of not getting subsidized in-state tuition for college? Nothing Trump said is untrue. You just don’t like acknowledging the indisputable fact that a substantial number of those poor little innocent babies you insist on having the rest of pay to transport, house, feed and educate are murderous piece of shit thugs.

  6. Yes, MS-13 isn’t a big deal. But he’s using it to illustrate the point that NONE of those people should be here in the first place. And if they weren’t NONE of those problems would be happening. Which is all true.

    I grew up in suburban towns north of San Francisco. In my actual hometown there were more Mexicans/Blacks than whites, and there were crime issues from both of those groups, including organized gang activity. But when we moved a town over it was basically all whites and Mexicans. Older Mexicans that had been there for awhile basically all acted like white folks with a tan. I’m part beaner myself, and my 100% Mexican best friend couldn’t even speak Spanish. That was typical.

    BUT that was when the surge of illegal immigration was starting to happen. A lot of the new Mexicans were a totally different story. They were openly and militantly racist against white people, because we’re all evil racist oppressors or something… And they also were the ONLY people that were involved in any organized crime/gang stuff. In other words that lovely little suburban town wouldn’t have had a single “gang member” if it wasn’t for massive illegal immigration.

    1. It’s not that whatever little gang shit they were doing was a huge deal… It’s that it would 100% not exist at all without those types of people being allowed in. Also, it was clear to me that the speed with which they were coming in was making them behave very differently in how they integrated versus my friend, or how my Mexican ancestor likely behaved. It became more insulated, more cliquish, more militant, etc. None of those are good things.

      Trump is using a tear jerker to get a point across… That’s the kind of crap all politicians do, so why single it out as something odd? It’s normal politician BS.

    2. He’s using it to demonstrate that you need to pick and choose who can enter the country, instead of just leaving the border wide open. And it’s a good demonstration.

      1. No. We have to let these people in. The violence they bring is a trifle for us to pay in exchange for their enrichment of our culture. I mean, tacos. You like tacos right? Which would you rather have: No more Mexican food, and these kids still be alive, or let the kids die and get that delicious grub? I know I want my foreign food, and I’m willing to let in any number of murderers and rapists to get it. Mountains of dead babies is the price of cheap foreign food, and we’d be fools not to pay that.

        /Reason Staff

        1. Seriously. That is literally the main fallback progressives and open border libertarians use. OR “But we have to! We’re all immigrants you know!” Because all of the logical and practical arguments largely don’t hold water with respect to low education immigrants. It’s either our moral responsibility to make our country shittier for the feelz, or because of foreign food. I agree that tacos are great… But we don’t need 40 million Mexicans (or whatever the total of legal and illegal is now) to get tacos.

  7. Constantly ignoring the issues with illegal immigration, as Reason is wont to do, does nothing to help your cause.

  8. If Mexican citizens were free to cross the border by flashing a reliable ID and having it checked against a database of wanted criminals and convicted felons, then the only people sneaking through the deserts at night to avoid border checkpoints would be dangerous MS-13 gang members and others like them, who wouldn’t be able to cross at a convenient, legal checkpoint. That would make them easy to catch trying to cross illegally with minimal patrolling.

    In other words, an open border is a secure border.

    MS-13 members can easily cross our borders because of the swarm of non-violent migrant workers they can hide behind–like a school of fish. Our border with Canada is far more secure than our border with Mexico because we effectively have an open border with Canada. Canadians without felony convictions and without outstanding warrants don’t sneak across the border at night. Why would they do that when they can just cross at a legal checkpoint?

    1. This idea sounds nice Ken, but it misses some key points. First, it presupposes that the corrupt and backwards nations these people are coming from actually could manage any reliable database, and second it ignores the issues of anchor babies and welfare.

      You can kiss your libertarian dreams goodbye when you’ve imported enough people who hate liberty and prefer corruption to guarantee electoral victory for their interests. Every immigrant, legal or illegal, good or bad, needs to go if you don’t want to see them vote us into a socialist backwater and overrun our system with corruption and graft.

    2. And if I was pretty near certain that they’d go home at the end of the day or after a brief “vacation” stay, then I’d be in favor of letting them visit the country with a flash of an ID. Kind of like US citizens visiting Canadian and vice-versa. But 11M Mexicans/Guatemalans/Salvadorians… have crossed the border with no intent of ever going home.

    3. I think you miss that they CAN just come over pretty easily. It’s the fact that often when they do, they never go home. That’s where the issue comes from. Canadians don’t stay and live here illegally in too big of numbers.

      I believe a lot of Mexicans sneak over because they don’t want there to be a record of their coming in in the first place. If they just wanted to stroll on over to shop in El Paso for the day they can do that. But if they go through the border officially we’d know they came in and never left. That’s why they sneak.

  9. The Peaky Blinders would cause the MS-13 crowd to shit themselves.

  10. Is it possible that Trump referred to MS-13 because the girls were killed by MS-13 members and not just to create a bogeyman?

    Is it possible that, when people are talking about horrific crimes MS-13 members have committed, they’re doing it because MS-13 members have actually committed horrific crimes and not because they’ve been told to?

    1. Come on, illegals never commit crimes. This is all make-believe.


      1. Immigrants never commit crimes



  11. Debaters always use dramatic examples to illustrate their points, and that’s all this is. MS-13 is here precisely because of our lack of adequate border patrol and immigration enforcement. That is a fact, as is the murders they have committed here.

    Also, illegal immigrants all are law breakers, and all but some of the “dreamers” did so on purpose and continue to do so when buying false identification.

    The author chooses to conflate illegal immigration with legal immigration, which is not surprising. Libertarians don’t like the idea of nations, even though the nation system is the only thing providing the freedoms that allow Libertarians to speak freely.

    1. Libertarians don’t like the idea of nations, even though the nation system is the only thing providing the freedoms that allow Libertarians to speak freely.

      The argument used to be that Libertarians believe in having a state with limited and controlled functions. That they aren’t anarchists. It appears that either that is a lie from what I read in Libertarian publications and see in discussions like the comments. That, or the Libertarian movement has been successfully colonized and subverted by anarchists.

      1. Successfully colonized and subverted by the left. Not anarchists.

      2. Something about “to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,” right? The problem with open borders, in a nutshell, is that new people may come in too fast to be assimilated to the idea that government exists to secure rights and acts with consent of the governed. It is no more libertarian to let people indifferent to your freedom take over your polity than it is to let people indifferent to your welfare take over your home.

        1. You just don’t get it!!! We’re liberal socially and it’s socially liberal to hand over the nation your forefathers built to anyone that wants it! And it’s socially liberal to grant them citizenship!

          Left – Right = ZERO! DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND???? LEFT – RIGHT = ZERO

          [Autistic Screeching]


          1. He never bolds the Left – Right = Zero. I rate this aggression the work of a moronic Trumpster who will now scream FAKE NEWS!


            Wrong again in defense of a cyberbully! Kivlor LIES and MOCKS!

            Left – Right = Zero!

            1. LMAO that was a Damn good Hihn impression RT. I now to your skill

              1. *Bow.

                This is why I avoid typing on my phone -_-

  12. “many without jumping through nearly impossible legal hoops”

    Many without even a wink and nod to the laws of the US, who then demand that the US accommodate them and their demands for citizenship, schooling their children, welfare benefits, and the right to bring in 50 7th cousins while calling it “family reunification” (p.s., your family was only broken up because YOU left YOUR family in YOUR home country.).

    OTOH, nearly 1M people manage to navigate those “nearly impossible legal hopes” each and every year.

  13. Conflating addressing the dangers of uncontrolled immigration with conflating illegal immigrants with crime is deceitful.

  14. I feel like provoking a Hihn attack, The warm-up will be two sure-fire phrases that pull the pin on the grenade in lefty craniums:

    Americans are dreamers too.

    Blue lives matter.

    Now an irritating prediction: Trump will likely decide not to run again in 2020 despite his popularity after 3.5 years of effective governance finally cresting at over 50%. The Donald is simply getting old and he is eager to get back to managing his empire full time. When Trump and Melanie close the White House door the last time, the Supreme Court balance will be six leaning right, three lefties still standing.

    The GOP candidate next presidential election will be Nikki Haley. She will be running against Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden. You call it. . .

  15. “Trump’s references to MS-13 tonight were a cynical and prejudicial attempt to make Americans think otherwise and support his obsession with wasting American treasure on a futile and pointless attempt to stop people from coming here to work and be part of the overall economic fabric of the United States as workers, consumers, and taxpayers. Parents of murdered children deserve standing ovations, but Trump’s immigration madness does not.”


    Do you propose he say something similar to “Here are two tragic examples of what happens when our immigration system fails our citizens. We need to improve?” Because that is what everyone hears, unless a person suffers from TDS.

    1. Plus the fact that MS-13 is a big problem nationwide. With many of their members being illegals.

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